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opinions John G. Smith

Stronger Together: Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to go it alone

Posted: October 29, 2016 by John G. Smith

Those who work in the trucking industry tend to be an independent lot. Maybe it’s a function of a driver’s job. Those who crave crowds would likely struggle in a long-haul life, where human contact can sometimes be limited to fuel islands, truck stops, and the occasional loading dock. The independence doesn’t end with those who sit in a driver’s seat, either. It’s the spirit which drives entrepreneurs to be successful, and technicians to focus on complex troubleshooting trees.

But to borrow a tagline from a U.S. presidential campaign, there are times when we are stronger together.

No single industry group will meet every need, but each offers some strong advantages to those who participate.

Networking can be the end goal in some settings. I saw a great example of that during a dinner with the Hamilton Transportation Club, a thriving regional transportation group along the lines of those that were once much more commonplace. Say what you will about the value of social media, but there is no replacing the value of facetime with peers and suppliers.

In other cases, the focus might be professional development. Transportation clubs and trucking associations alike tend to offer ongoing seminars to keep abreast of everything from shifting regulations to operating practices.

Then there is the matter of trying to bring about change. Particularly regulatory change. Because grumbling to yourself in a driver’s seat or griping around a loading dock will only take you so far.

I’m not referring to protests or blockades. In most cases those accomplish nothing more than annoying fellow motorists. I’ve reported on many picket lines over the years, and have found that the individual protesters often can’t even agree on what they’re fighting, or why they parked in the first place. Where one person complains about rates, the next wants a change in enforcement rules, and others complain about issues that can be traced to specific workplaces. These are the groups that inevitably splinter.

Yelling and complaining is easy. Like it or not, real and effective lobbying always takes place around boardroom tables, in meetings behind the scenes, and in structured public forums where everyone has a voice. Solutions only emerge when those on both sides of a table are willing to compromise in the give and take of negotiation. It can be a hard thing for an independent person or a Type A personality to accept, especially if such traits have helped to make them personally successful.

Which brings me to the biggest trucking associations of them all.

Chris Spear, Chief Executive Officer of the American Trucking Associations, all but declared war on federal lawmakers during a recent address, stressing that the “steady drumbeat” of lobbying will “move the needle” on issues. “We are the backbone of our economy and a pillar of our nation’s security,” he told industry executives. “America relies on free trade, and trucking is key.”

The same can be said about Canada, where the Canadian Trucking Alliance offers a national voice for provincial trucking associations.

There are those who complain that the alliance does not represent their positions — and the argument has merit. Any association, alliance, or committee is ultimately responsible to its members. There are times when individual members won’t all get their way, either. Votes are taken. Majorities rule. Think of it like the House of Commons.

Sure, there is the option of walking away. Such threats have emerged in the past, usually along with complaints that one side or another is dominating an agenda. But any group – with any purpose – is always weakened when that happens.

You want to know the surest way to have a voice silenced? Give up the seat at the table.

Then see how far you can move the needle.



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